Published on 16 May 2012 by Adriano
A few weeks ago we went to Miami, Florida, to attend Harley-Davidson’s traditional Press Experience, which this year has been dubbed “The Art Of Custom” in order to underline the strong connection between the Milwaukee-based manufacturer and the custom world, something that has always been at the core of the ‘magic’ surronding this legendary brand. There can be no denial in fact that the custom culture as we know it today basically took off in the US in the 50s and 60s thanks to the famous H-D Twins of that era, and from there it spread all over the world. However, this is something we will delve into later on. Base of operations for the whole event is a nice hotel in Miami Beach, where a demo-fleet made of almost every model of the current H-D range silently awaits.
On the first day of the event, the Harley-Davidson staff greeted us in a nice conference room where we were given a short overview of the glorious H-D history, from the humble beginning in a barn in Milwaukee in 1903 till the grandeur of today, proven by the fact that the famous bar-and-shield logo is the only motorcycle-related brand that made it in the highly rated ‘Top 100 Best Global Brands’ chart, published at the beginning of the year by Interbrand, one of the world’s leading brand consultancy. Then we got introduced to the two most important additions to H-D’s 2012 line-up: the wicked Softail Slim, powered by the brand new 1690 cc (103 cubic inches) air cooled twin that is bound to become H-D main engine for the forthcoming years, and the slightly quieter Sportster Seventy-Two (pictured above), equipped with a 1200 cc V-Twin engine with electronic injection.
After a quick briefing concerning the schedule of the event, it is finally time to jump on the bikes and move to what will be the first stop of our ‘Press Experience’, Wynwood Walls, an outdoor mural permanent exhibit within the well-known Wynwood Art District of Miami. The demo-fleet that Harley-Davidson provided for this event was nothing short of ‘impressive’: the aforementioned new models as well as several variants of Sportster, Dyna, Softail, Touring, V-Rod etc etc. Basically all models from the current H-D line up were there, and seeing this whole lot lined up under the sun, with all the chrome bits shining, really was a pretty evocative view. Read the rest of the article and see all the pictures after the jump.
As Europeans, riding in Miami on a Harley is quite an inspiring experience, although you cannot help but feel a little estranged seeing all the locals riding with no helmet on. We could actually smile when running into a long-bearded fellow H-D rider with bare chest, bandana and sun-glasses, but seeing exactly the same thing on a Ducati 848 or a Gixer (and with the girlfriend in a bikini sitting at the back) was actually a little shocking.
Once in Wynwood we parked the bikes in front of an art center where H-D had set a nice exposition focusing on the link between their motorcycles and the world of customization. Introducing us to the nuances of this relationship are some of the most important executives of the company, namely Mark-Hans Richer (Senior Vice President and Global Chief Marketing Officer for Harley-Davidson) and, especially, the legendary Willie G. Davidson.
For those into H-D things, this charismatic character needs no introduction, but to the benefit of those who aren’t, let’s just say that Willie G. - as he likes to be called - is one of the key figures in H-D history: grandson to William A. Davidson (one of the founders of the company) and son to William H. Davidson (the second president in H-D history), in 1981 he basically saved the brand from bankruptcy, leading a squad of 13 other executives who bought it back from the previous owner and led it to the worldwide success that it still enjoys today. At that time we did not know that Willie G. was about to retire (a decision that was made public a few weeks later), but we will get back to that when we’ll publish the interview we conducted with the man himself.
View Harley-Davidson in Wynwood - Art Of Custom 2012 photo gallery
Right after the meetings with H-D big boys, we got introduced to David “Lebo” Le Batard, a famed local artist who is also responsable for the exposition that emphasizes the bond between Harley Davidson and art. And, by extension, the custom world. Lebo is one of the street artists that 20 years ago was at the forefront of the artistic revolution that turned Wynwood from a dodgy and disreputable neighborhood (as he described it) into the modern, bohemian area full of art centers, studios and museums it is today. Just to put that into the right perspective, graffitism was illegal there two decades ago, while now the local administration encourages it by offering the various buildings of the area to the artists, as ‘empty canvas’.
Lebo also explained the evident relationship linking art and customization, two forms of expression meant to underline the creativity and personality of the individual. One perfect example of this relationship is the collection of customized H-D tanks on display at the center, some of which were decorated by Lebo himself. He spent quite some time introducing us to each and every piece, that you can also admire in our dedicated photo gallery.
The rest of the day is dedicated to the pictures, and we have to say that H-D and Wynwood Walls surely makes for a perfect match (as you can see in the shots). Then it is time for a quick visit to downtown Miami for more pictures, but there is not much time to linger on that as the following day we are supposed to go to Key West, the most southern island of the Florida Keys and home to the southernmost point in the Continental United States. Program says departure is scheduled at 6:30 am, so we better get some rest.
Miami Beach looks and sounds pretty quiet on early mornings: just a handful of bathers and a couple of panda cars can be spotted on the white sand of its gorgeous beach while something like thirty dedicated bikers are heading toward an impressive row of glossy and untarnished Harley-Davidson motorcycles, once again lined up under the hot Florida sun. As previously pointed out, the destination of our trip is Key West, the last island of the Florida Keys that is roughly 270 km away from Miami (about 168 miles) and can be reached through the Overseas Highway, the lower parts of the U.S. Route 1 that connects all of the islands making up the Florida Keys and then goes up for 3,800 km (2,360 miles) reaching the Canadian border.
Getting out of Miami early in the morning - and with little traffic - gives us the chance to better appreciate the beauty of this city, which offers tall skyscrapers (usually white), palms, and an unbelievable sea that couldn’t get any more blue than that. Getting around Miami in order to reach its south side also allowed us to take a look at the American life away from the big city lights, while we could not help but notice how many of the vehicles we met on our way are basically either rare or pretty unknown in Europe. The first refuelling stop happened in Key Biscayne: in Florida petrol is priced at about 3.50-3.60 $ per gallon, which is approximately 0.75 € per litre, and hearing an American member of the H-D staff complaining about the recent rises (”which have crippled the local economy”) just brings a smile on our faces.
As its name suggests, the Overseas Highway is actually a long motorway suspended over the sea that every now and then bumps into the occasional little island with its own little town. We got split in two groups - to make the whole thing easier to handle and less of a hassle for the other motorists - and told to follow a powerful Harley-Davidson Touring Electra Glide Classic ridden by a member of the H-D crew, who will make sure that nobody will speed up. Another two members of the crew close the group, ready to help whoever will lose ground or get lost.
Riding with the sea on both sides it’s a pretty unusual experience, but the fact that the Overseas Highway is basically a neverending straight (as well as the strict speed limits) did not allow us to really test the various models that we rode. On the other hand though, this is exactly the kind of habitat for which these machines were designed in the first place: just the fact that our road-trip was so long helped us to better understand some of H-D key features: comfort is always there, thanks to a riding position that is absolutely ergonomic and not tiring, the saddle feels great and the bike (any of them) is as reactive as this kind of conditions require.
Last but not least, there’s also that H-D magic, that is made of pride, history and that trademark sound that comes out of its iconic V-Twins: more than once we got greeted on the streets by the bypassers, and at almost every traffic light we could see somebody picking up his mobile or camera to take a pic of our noisy parade, not to mention all the other Harley-Davidson riders we met on our way to Key West, who never failed to show us some sign of approval. What’s really interesting about this is that Harley-Davidson riders really are a motley bunch: we saw long haired, tattoed machos and hot blondes, old bald fatties and fine, athletic youngsters, the demographics of the H-D enthusiasts are so variegated that it would be pointless to associate this brand to a certain limited category of people. And this fact alone says a lot about how much Harley-Davidson is entrenched in the American culture.
Key West is a cheerful and quiet holiday resort that is just perfect to get some rest after a four-hour long ride (not consecutive, of course). Surrounded by a jaw-dropping sea and dotted with plenty of palm-trees, with amazing white beaches and a warm weather throughout the whole year, we can now understand what spurred Ernest Hemingway to make it his home place for so many years. After lunch, a visit to the famous Key West Buoy (that marks the most southern place in the US) is simply mandatory: thinking that from there Cuba is just 90 miles away is kind of odd, but we have no time to think too much about that as we would like to make it back to Miami by the sunset.
By the time we got there to sun was already gone, but that wasn’t too bad as driving by night in a very illuminated Miami turned out to be one of the highlights of the day. After so much straight you just cannot help but feel a little bored, but the slightly twisty motorways around Miami made for a nice change of pace. Once we recognized the surroundings and figured out how to make it back to the hotel, the time to leave the Electra Glide behind had finally come: it was time to try some proper acceleration, some chicane, something similar to a leanig angle and so forth. Not much perhaps, but enough to get our much desevred happy ending.
We would like to thank the whole Harley-Davidson staff of the 2012 Art of Custom.